In the search for a string of victories in order to remove the attention from their recent losing skid, the Toronto Maple Leafs arrived in Quebec for an always exciting brand of Hockey Night in Canada and a game against their longtime rival Montreal Canadiens.
Perhaps, some memories of the days when 6am practices were the norm and playing in the NHL was just a dream were flowing among the Maple Leafs, as fathers of the players made the trip to Montreal for their annual father/son event. Supporting their sons and looking to inspire their motivation, the fathers were in for an exciting and emotional game as the Leafs look for an important two points.
Starting in goal for tonight’s divisional battle was Jonas Gustavsson. After relieving J.S. Giguere, who removed himself from the Leafs slump ending victory on Tuesday, Gustavsson has looked poised and determined to take the reigns. A strong performance on Thursday against the Devils has given his teammates the confidence in him to grab hold of their third straight win in Montreal. When asked about the atmosphere and emotion that comes with the Maple Leafs/Canadiens rivalry, Gustavsson had this to say.
“It’s awesome, you want to play those games when the crowd is going nuts and it’s really loud. Games with a big rival are always fun to play because you really want to win those games. That’s a game I’m really looking forward to.”
The excitement wouldn’t take long to build as the Leafs and Canadiens came out skating hard. While both goaltenders had to be sharp, it was Jonas Gustavsson playing the role of Monster as he shut the door on a flurry of Montreal chances. With his team on the power play, Gustavsson bailed them out from a short handed chance to keep the game scoreless through the first period.
The second period would be no different as the goaltending battle would continue, with Carey Price displaying his efforts as the Leafs were pressing. Jonas Gustavsson was tracking the puck well and seemed to leave no rebounds. While Gustavsson’s remaimed steady, the Canadiens found their first goal of the night on a perfect tip by Jeff Halpern. The redirected shot was the only play that could find its way passed either goaltender, as the Canadiens headed into the locker room with a 1-0 lead at the end of the second period.
The third period began in the same fashion as the first two, with a fast pace and agressive play. The period progressed and so too did the agression, as a flurry of hits resulted in a John Mitchell high sticking call. With the Canadiens were on the power play, a mental breakdown saw Mike Komisarek pass the puck through the slot and Mike Cammalleri made no mistake, one-timing it passed a sprawling Gustavsson, giving the Canadiens the two goal lead. Turnovers were the cause of the Maple Leafs demise in this game, and none were more glaring than the sloppy play by Mike Komisarek. Late in the third, the Leafs were able to generate a few chances, but the puck would somehow stay out of the Montreal goal, allowing Carey Price and the Canadiens to walk away with the 2-0 shutout victory.
If the Maple Leafs are to recover the valuable points needed to make their way back up the Eastern Conference ladder, their attention to detail must improve. A hard worked and relatively even game with the Canadiens was dropped on a few detail oriented plays and one timely mistake.
â€œWe gift-wrapped a couple for them,â€ said Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson after the game. â€œAnd we couldnâ€™t find a way to score.â€ Komisarek’s giftwrapped giveaway notwithstanding, Ron Wilson’s penalty kill continues to struggle as it has in the two seasons before, sitting 28th in the league despite stabilized goaltending and a ton of money invested in the backend.
It’s unfair to get too down on Komisarek himself given his early rebound in his sophomore season as a Leaf, but it’s not like this was one brain cramp that can be forgiven and forgotten for a Leafs team that leads the league in giveaways. Perhaps attributable to their status as the youngest team in the league, mental mistakes are happening all over the ice. It’s veterans like Komisarek and Beauchemin (a repeat offender in this regard) that have to be a solution not contributors to this problem.
Jonas Gustavsson deserved a better fate, however the mistakes made by his teammates swayed the game out of their favor. With his team unable to score, Gustavsson found himself once again on the wrong end of a great performance. When asked if the frustration boils as the clock ticks without a goal, Gustavsson spoke of his focus on doing his job and providing the team a chance to win.
â€œI worry about helping keep (my teammates) in the game, whether we score or not. Maybe next game we will score five goals. You canâ€™t think about it.â€
Gustavsson and Head Coach Ron Wilson will be hoping for as many goals as it will take when the Maple Leafs welcome the Dallas Stars to the Air Canada Centre on Monday. Making a few corrections and giving the same effort from tonight’s game will help avoid a consecutive loss. Anything less will see their latest two game win streak erased very quickly.